In this chapter my 211 mile John Muir Trail journey finally begins!
Chapter 4 – DAY 1
(Happy Isles to Lyell Headwaters ~ 35 miles)
...still in the dark, I broke down and packed my sleeping gear by touch, having already memorized the shapes and textures. I could hear the soft murmurs and scrapes of the other backpackers as they engaged in their own morning rituals. In a way we were all connected in a dance of sorts, lost in our own hopes and fears, but moving to the same music.
I synched my pack tightly (since I was planning to move with speed and agility, I wanted my gear to be an extension of my body), set it on my shoulders, and strode out of camp. I distinctly remember looking back once with a half-smile and nod, a brief acknowledgement that the next time I set foot in this place I would be changed.
As I passed the stables I broke into a jog. A couple of the horses looked up and nickered at me, their breath pluming in the pre-dawn air. I found myself wondering if the beasts were wishing me luck or warning me, and even as I thought this I laughed silently at myself for my need to make meaning from the meaningless. No matter. Luck was something invented by the ill prepared. I was ready. Not only was I ready, I was so excited to pit myself against all the challenges I would face over the next week and to see what I was made of.
I stopped to take a picture of the trail sign that read “Mount Whitney via John Muir Trail, 211 miles”, recorded a short video journal, and then looked down at the trail and scuffed it with my feet. I recited Lao Tsu’s famous words to myself: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” I only had to go 211. Bonus. Looking around slowly, I savored the keen expectation that only belongs to beginnings, and took my first step onto the JMT.
Legs and lungs feeling strong, I ascended quickly. A group of CrossFit athletes on a day hike to Half Dome had begun just in front of me, and I took quiet pride in dropping them almost instantly. They could probably take me back to their gym and Olympic lift me till I cried uncle, but the John Muir Trail was my domain. I passed a couple other groups of day hikers and was encouraged. Even if I wasn’t running, my pace seemed to be getting the job done.
Eventually I lost myself for awhile in the flow of movement and breath. (This is natural process that occurs to most long distance runners during some or all of their runs, and I would spend countless hours over the next week immersed in this moving meditation of extreme calm and focus). After the left turn to Half Dome the trail emptied, and for the first time I was able to truly revel in the vastness surrounding me and the strange euphoria stimulated by feeling completely dwarfed by but connected to everything...
Next week - Chapter 5 and THE BEAR